/ 13 March 2008

Tippling point

South African high flyers are known to love their drink; how some of them handle it is a different story.

From the days when apartheid’s rulers insisted that keelnatmaak (wetting your throat) was an essential part of the job, the sound of ice tinkling in whisky tumblers was the soundtrack to all the best events and political functions.

Apartheid may be dead, but some things don’t change.

In dusty Polokwane in December, the ANC set up a massive, white, air-conditioned marquee called the Network Lounge, to give leaders and their posh friends a breather from the hectic business of electing a new president.

Soothed by soft carpets and comfy chairs, the differences between the Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma camps were all but ironed out as the evening wore on, helped by a non-stop supply of Shiraz.

Ostensibly meant for big business to show off their wares to the influential ANC leaders, the Network Lounge fast became a watering hole where ties were loosened and everyone could imagine themselves miles away from the toyi-toying masses cooped up in the plenary hall.

Drinking never seems to go out of fashion among the elite classes. In some cases good names have been thrown away along with clean records; in others, our finest have simply made fools of themselves. Whichever way you look at it, the effects of alcohol can be felt all the way to the top.

Pik Botha, former Minister of Foreign Affairs
It arguably all began with Pik Botha, former hearty apartheid minister, now a firm ANC supporter.
The drinking of the old guard was legendary. Every National Party office in Parliament was equipped with a bar fridge normally stocked with enough brandewyn (brandy) and Coke (gin and tonics for the ladies) to make the end of the day worthwhile.

Pik was voor in die koor (a leading light) and to this day he is prone to call journalists around midday, just after his first glass of red wine, to discuss the news and views of the day. Sometimes he continues calling all through sundowners, right up to the last night cap.

Tony Yengeni, ANC MP
In November last year, Tony Yengeni, driving his signature black 4×4 Merc, was observed swerving down a road in Cape Town, shortly before crash-landing on a traffic island. Patrolling police smelled alcohol on his breath and asked him if he’d been drinking, to which Yengeni replied: “Only flu medicine.”

Yengeni’s was charged with negligent driving and the case is set to be heard later this month. Yengeni is rumoured to like the expensive stuff — at Polokwane he was seen opening bottles of Veuve Cliquot to which he later added ice.

Robert McBride, former police chief
In December 2006, former Ekurhuleni metro police chief Robert McBride left a work function where he had apparently consumed “large amounts of whisky” — no “police coffee” (brandy and Coke) for this top cop. Near Hartbeespoort Dam, McBride rolled his car. He was not breathalysed, nor was a blood sample taken. However, he has now been charged with driving under the influence, and will appear in the Pretoria magistrate court on March 17. McBride maintains he didn’t drink anything because he is a diabetic and takes insulin.

Nkola Motata, Judge, Pretoria High Court
Judge Nkola Motata should take first prize for the man worst affected by tea. Last year, the judge drove his Jaguar through a garden wall on a quiet, tarred suburban road.

The owner of the wall, Richard Baird, filmed the judge slumped at his steering wheel and when police officers arrived, the judge “was aggressive at the scene and resisted his arrest to the extent that minimum force had to be applied to remove him from his vehicle”, the state said in its case against Motata.

His blood alcohol level was found to be “at least four times over the legal limit” according to evidence before the court. When asked by the Sunday Times about the incident, the judge said: “I wasn’t drunk at all … I had been with one of my colleagues earlier that night, drinking tea.” The judge’s case has been postponed to June and he’s “on leave” until further notice.

Linda Mti, head of security for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and former director general of correctional services
Mti allegedly drove his car into the back of another one in Sandringham, Johannesburg. Abe Mashile, the man into whose car Mti smashed, said Mti got out of his car, fell to the ground and slept until the police arrived.

Mti woke up long enough to ask the arresting officer: “Do you know who I am?”

This incident outraged even President Thabo Mbeki, who didn’t mention Mti by name, but used him as an example of how an ANC leader should not behave. Mti’s case was struck off the roll because his blood tests were not available. He resigned from correctional services shortly afterwards.

Aziz Pahad, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Essop Pahad, Minister in the Presidency.
These two brothers are known to like the hardtack, and one of brother Aziz’s colleagues says: “It’s amazing the vast amounts of whisky this man can consume and still be clear and clever.”

Tales abound of brother Essop and his love of the single malt.

At a parliamentary function at Fernwood a couple of years back, Essop got ratty with a waitress who apparently wasn’t pouring the drinks fast enough, so he told her to just “give me the bottle”. When she replied she wasn’t allowed to do that, he shouted: “Do you know who I am?”

The waitress apparently turned to her colleague and said: “Another one who doesn’t know who he is.”